Ad campaign aims to elevate Travelocity above online competitors

Posted Sunday, Mar. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Travelocity's roaming gnome wants consumers to get off their couches and take a vacation.

The Southlake-based online travel company launched a TV ad campaign Sunday evening during The Amazing Race featuring its gnome running with the bulls and buried on a beach under a mermaid sand sculpture.

Travelocity has sponsored the reality travel show for several years, even featuring the gnome in several challenges on the race, but these ads will be seen on several major networks and cable stations as Travelocity has doubled its ad purchases to elevate its brand to compete with larger competitors like Expedia.

The company created five TV spots for its "Go and Smell the Roses" campaign, compared with one or two ads that would typically be used in a campaign. It also returned to the McKinney agency, which originally created the gnome in 2004, to develop the campaign.

"The idea was 'Let's get back some of the magic we once had,'" chief marketing officer Brad Wilson said. He declined to say how much Travelocity is spending on the ads since it is owned by Sabre Holdings, a privately held company.

The campaign, which will run through mid-April, is starting as a survey found that online shoppers are a little less satisfied with travel websites.

According to the survey, released last month by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, the online travel industry's customer satisfaction score dropped 2 points to 76 out of 100. Fort Worth-based Travelocity lost 4 points down to 75 points.

But Travelocity is highly competitive with all the major sites, separated by only 2 points in 2012.

"There is not a lot of blatant difference between Orbitz or Expedia and Travelocity," said Larry Freed, CEO of ForeSee, which conducted the survey. "There has been nothing really new and exciting from them."

Wilson, who joined Travelocity in 2011, acknowledges that the company hasn't done a good job telling customers about services it has added, such as its price match guarantee and concierge program. As the campaign expands into social media, he said, the ads will include more ucts. The company has also added another reality show partnership, sponsoring The Big Break on the Golf Channel.

Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Hudson Crossing who has seen previews of the new ads, called the campaign distinctive and fresh.

"What I like is that Travelocity is also communicating to the consumer that travel isn't about the things Travelocity sells, but what travel enables - discovery of the destination and of the traveler," Harteveldt said.

While Harteveldt says the new campaign could resonate with consumers, it will be challenging for Travelocity to sustain the campaign if consumer travel demand declines because of higher gasoline prices and economic fallout from the federal budget sequester.

Wilson says the campaign will motivate customers to spend discretionary dollars on a trip booked through the website.

And for the first time, the gnome will be talking to consumers in the ads.

"He's going right at you and trying to dislodge you from your couch," Wilson said.

Andrea Ahles, 817-390-7631

Twitter: @Sky_Talk

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